The Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University is a unique and historical destination on campus, dedicated to preserving and displaying fashion throughout the times. It was established in 1980 by Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, a former sociology professor who was interested in the drastic differences between historic children’s clothing and the clothing worn by children in modern times. Over time, the museum has grown from a few lecture items to becoming a wide collection respected both nationally and worldwide. Internationally known art garments have been published in books out of London publishing houses and in scholarly articles. Currently, the Fashion Archives and Museum has items on loan to the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, and they just got a loan back from The Frick in Pittsburgh.

Thompson’s interest in historical clothing started with personal research and a small collection in her office. She recognized that historical clothing has educational value, and the university president at the time supported Thompson’s vision, which then led to the creation of the Fashion Archives and Museum. Since the museum’s opening in 1980, the museum has collected a wide range of garments, textiles and accessories that all offer a glimpse into the past.

Since 2007, Dr. Karin J Bohleke has served as the director of the Fashion Archives and Museum and teaches courses within the Department of History/Philosophy. Bohleke is a talented seamstress with a plethora of knowledge on preserving textiles and historical garments.

“I was born in Norway; my entire family is Norwegian. Everyone—both boys and girls—learns to knit very early as part of the school curriculum. It’s just the culture. I come from a very textile-handy family that includes professional tailors and dressmakers and I have a picture of my great-great-grandmother in her living room with her finished embroidery projects draped all around her on every available bit of furniture. I honestly think it’s genetic. I spin, weave, knit, crochet, sew, embroider, tat and I can also do bobbin lace. All those skills get applied to identifying the costumes and doing any conservation,” said Bohleke.

Typically, many university collections remain unseen, but Ship’s Fashion Archives and Museum engages with them publicly by displaying exhibitions of various clothing items, and they are regularly transitioned, each following a new theme. The current exhibition on display, “Instrumental Fashions: Attire and Song,” relates song lyrics from a variety of famous artists to fashion pieces. For example, some of the iconic displays include outfits inspired by songs like “Cardigan” by Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny’s song “You Visto Asi”, translating to “I Dress Like This”. This exhibit will be available to the public until November.

Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University

Display inspired by Taylor Swift’s song, “Cardigan” (very far left) and Bad Bunny display inspired by his song “Yo Vista Asi” (right).

Visitors can look forward to the museum’s up-and-coming exhibition, which is set to showcase the intersection of dolls and fashion. This exhibition will feature original Barbies paired with adult equivalents, displaying the evolution of fashion through the lens of dolls. The exhibition will include a 1930s Shirley Temple doll paired with a Shirley Temple brand child’s dress and many other historical pieces of clothing. 

The Fashion Archives and Museum also offers internships, work-study programs and various volunteer positions that students and the public can take advantage of. Students across fields such as communications, history, art, business and everything in between have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience within their discipline. Currently, two interns, Nicole Ocker and Kristen Ackerman are working on the museum’s social media content and events. Among some of the summer volunteers includes Joanne Dunisan, Emily Biddle and James Smetzer, a former graduate assistant. 

For more information, including visiting hours and upcoming events, visit the Fashion Archives and Museum website and stay up-to-date with the latest from the museum on Instagram.